Across AEP, many factors influence our customers’ overall experience with us. From initial communication and account management to billing, payment history and social media posts, their experience with each connection forms their opinion about AEP. Giving customers multiple channels to engage with us is critical to the AEP customer experience. Customers drive the channels through which we communicate, and we work diligently to ensure every channel yields a positive solution. When we engage with a customer, we want to communicate about the topics that matter to them. As we integrate new customer relationship management tools, we are enhancing our capabilities to respond to customers’ individual needs more efficiently and cost-effectively.
In 2020, more than 80% of our customer care agents worked from home to support our small business customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we created a web-based resource center with information on federal aid made available to our customers. In addition, we trained a group of our call center representatives to provide dedicated support for small businesses that want to apply for federal Small Business Administration (SBA) programs. We also created resource pages for our residential customers on each of our Operating Company websites. Learn more about our efforts to support our customers.
- Social Media
Our customers are increasingly using a variety of social media platforms to connect with us. In today’s digital world, customers expect immediate response from us, day or night. This is especially true during outages, when customers expect real-time, accurate information about restoration efforts. AEP manages several social media channels including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn through our Social Media Center. Recognized by J.D. Power as a best practice, we staff our Social Media Center with customer care agents seven days a week, ensuring that, on average, a customer who reaches out through Facebook or Twitter can expect a response within minutes.
Having a dedicated Social Media Center and social media strategy helps us make a significant impact on our customer sentiment, improve our overall customer satisfaction, provide new marketing channels and enhance our company’s reputation. Social media gives us a near-real-time snapshot of our overall customer satisfaction levels.
- Customer Perceptions & Expectations
In 2019, we began the rollout of a new, centralized customer relationship management (CRM) system, giving us better information about what our customers want, their perceptions and expectations of AEP and how they want to engage with us.
In 2019, we expanded the Voice of the Customer Program through an enhanced post-call survey for customers who contact our Customer Operations Centers. The survey measures customer satisfaction and ease of doing business with AEP for phone and digital channels in real time, giving us important information about what caused the customers’ concerns and at what point it occurred. We share these survey results with call center employees and other internal stakeholders to learn from them, so we can deliver a better experience in the future.
In addition to direct customer feedback, we couple data from the J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Survey and other research firms to compare our performance with that of our utility peers and other industries, such as banking, telecommunications and retail. This gives us a more complete picture of a customer’s experience with AEP, including any feedback they provide and preferences they may have. Having this information allows us to improve service to our customers with the tailored energy solutions they want.
AEP Ohio was designated a Customer Champion in the 2019 Cogent Syndicated Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™ Residential study for the second year in a row. The report was based on a survey of more than 67,000 residential customers of the nation’s 140 largest utility companies. AEP Ohio was one of 40 utilities to earn this award.
In 2019, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO) was named a Utility Customer Champion in the Cogent Syndicated Utility Trusted Brand & Customer Engagement™: Residential study from Escalent, a top human behavior and analytics firm. The award honors utilities that exhibit exceptional performance on Brand Trust, Service Satisfaction and Product Experience.
- Supporting Our Wholesale, Transmission Owner and Generation Customers
When we think about customers, we generally think about the retail customers of local distribution companies. However, AEP also serves large-scale non-affiliate customers who directly connect to our transmission grid and have different needs. Our transmission customers include wholesale (electric co-operatives and municipalities) and other transmission owners and generation interconnections (independent power producers).
Power quality and reliability is a priority for these customers. In general, as AEP and customers continue to modernize their equipment, their systems become more sensitive to power quality issues such as voltage variations and momentary power outages. By acting on customers’ needs for power or infrastructure change, we can provide additional transparency about energy use and deliver targeted solutions to meet their energy needs of tomorrow.
By providing support to our electrically interconnected partners through communications and stakeholder engagement meetings, we proactively identify customer pain points, load criticality and other infrastructure concerns, so that we can resolve issues prior to a problem occurring.
- Customer Digital Assistant Channel
The new voice channel (via voice service devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa) allows customers to access information within their and other AEP digital customer applications, such as the mobile app. They can also get answers to questions, such as “How can I save energy?” or “How much is my average bill?” During 2019, the top three questions asked by customers were “What is my bill?” (39%), “What is my energy usage?” (12%) and “What is my daily average energy usage?”(9%). Customers are just beginning to interact with these devices on things beyond music and entertainment.
Paperless customers are now able to pay bills via voice service devices. We plan to add new features, including the ability for customers to report an outage or enroll in an AEP program or service.
- Keeping Customers Informed
AEP’s mobile app makes it easier for customers to do business with us, including the ability to pay their bill, monitor their energy use and report or check on the status of an outage. AEP’s customer mobile app has been downloaded over 570,000 times and, on average, has over 165,000 active devices per day. We continually work to update and improve the app, and in 2019, we added new features, including historical weather data and in-app surveys.
In 2019, Indiana Michigan Power (I&M) launched the WattsUp Energy Portal enabling customers to review their energy use when it is convenient for them. The portal program also sends automated emails to participating customers showing their energy cost mid-way through their billing cycle, as well as an estimate of their bill based on their to-date usage that month.
- Estimated Wait Times
Improving the interaction customers have with AEP is better for them and for us. This is especially true when customers are on hold waiting for assistance. In late 2019, we provided all customers with an estimated wait time and implemented an automated callback feature. Customers can opt-in for a return call rather than wait on hold. This feature proved valuable – especially during heavy call volumes – and we achieved a 96% rate in callbacks.
Our roadmap for continuously improving the customer experience includes leveraging more advanced technologies and customer input to enable data-driven decisions and to optimize customer engagement. In 2020, we will begin a speech-to-text program that converts customer calls into transcripts. Digitally analyzing these transcripts will provide more granular information on why customers are calling and the issues they are experiencing. This will enable us to be more effective in resolving customers’ inquiries.